| Defender William Gallas and midfielder Robert Pires (right) during France’s training in Clairefontaine Tuesday. (AFP)
Paris: France coach Jacques Santini will rely on experience when the European champions face Turkey in the Confederations Cup semi-finals on Thursday.
Turkey eliminated world champions Brazil in the biggest upset of the tournament’s first round, and a home defeat would put the French back in the doldrums a year after their dismal World Cup campaign.
“You need victories to build up a team,” Santini said on Wednesday. “With the knock-out round this is a new tournament which is starting on Thursday,” he said. “The experience of certain guys can be crucial in this kind of match.”
Reaching the final must be the hosts’ minimum aim as they continue their preparations for next year’s European championship in Portugal.
Santini is without a number of influential first-choice players, including midfielders Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Petit, Zinedine Zidane and Claude Makelele.
Santini put his faith in young players during the first round, but will pick his most experienced side for the rest of the tournament.
Turkey, who finished third in last year’s World Cup, ripped Brazil’s defence to shreds in the second half of Monday’s 2-2 draw in St Etienne, and Santini is aware of the threat of young striker Tuncay Sanli.
France will probably start with a solid 4-4-2 formation, William Gallas partnering captain Marcel Desailly in central defence flanked by Lilian Thuram and Bixente Lizarazu.
Arsenal’s Sylvain Wiltord and Robert Pires will share midfield creative responsibilities, with the improving Benoit Pedretti and reliable Olivier Dacourt taking care of the defensive duties.
Thierry Henry is sure to lead the attack, possibly partnered by Sidney Govou, who scored the winning goal in the side’s 2-1 victory over Japan, instead of Djibril Cisse.
Santini thinks Turkey will take extra motivation from their performance against Brazil, but believes his side is peaking at the right time.
“We carefully planned our preparation for this semi-final,” said Santini. “Those who needed rest were given some and we are now in a great shape.”
Precious little delight
Contrarily, Turkey captain Bulent Korkmaz is predicting precious little delight for ‘football giants’ France.
“France were one of the favourites, but I think Turkey are too — in the past our system of play wasn’t very well controlled, but now we’re a much more complete team. It’s an important match for us,” said Korkmaz.
His coach Senol Gunes, who led Turkey to third place in last summer’s World Cup, is eager to see how his young side cope on Thursday. “France are former World Cup winners and European champions, they are giants of football.
“This is an exciting test for our new players," said Gunes. Yet he is deeply concerned about the physical toll the competition has taken on his team.
“We’ve done a lot of travelling and only have two days to prepare for France, whereas they as hosts have not been on the road so much.
“Our aim was to meet them in the final, but here we are taking them on in the semis,” Gunes commented.
Given the support afforded to Turkey by their fans the atmosphere at the Stade de France could get as hot as the soaring temperatures the teams have had to contend with since the competition began a week ago. Paris has a sizeable Turkish community, and many of them will be turning up to ensure Gunes’ side doesn’t lack for support.
The coach is planning a number of changes from the team that knocked Brazil out on Monday although it is uncertain whether Real Sociedad striker Nihat Kahveci, on Spanish league duty up to now, will be among them.
Meanwhile, Colombia could be forgiven for being extra motivated when they take on Cameroon in the other semi-final in Lyon on Thursday. The South Americans last met the African champions at the 1990 World Cup when the Indomitable Lions prevailed 2-1.
That loss hurt deeply in Bogota but Colombia coach Francisco Maturana — who was also coach at the 1990 World Cup finals — refuses to regard this encounter as a chance for revenge.
After a clean bill of health was issued for all his key players Maturana has the luxury of fielding a full strength side as both Inter Milan’s Ivan Cordoba and the pacey Elson Becerra had to sit out the last game due to suspension. (Agencies)